In Australia, Shiraz or Syrah, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most widely planted grape varieties, making up 60% of the total grapes crushed in 2016. However, in recent years, a number of Italian grape varieties have started to appear in Australian vineyards. What is the reason behind this sudden interest in Italian grapes, and why is it happening now?
Diversity of Australian Wines:
The majority of grapes crushed in Australia in 2016 were French varieties, making up at least 90%. This is due to the historical influence of James Busby, who brought over cuttings from French and Spanish varieties in the 1830s. However, there has been a recent demand for more diversity in Australian wine, driven by changing tastes and a desire for more food-friendly wines.
Italian grape varieties have become increasingly popular, as they offer more acidity and structure compared to French varieties, and are well-suited to the popular Italian cuisine in Australia. Some of the Italian grape varieties being grown in Australia include Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Fiano, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto. The recent addition of the Glera grape, used to produce Prosecco, is an attempt to tap into the UK market. However, it remains to be seen if Australian Prosecco can compete in a market that is already in decline.
Climate Change in Australian Wine:
The quest for acidity in Australian wines is a response to climate change. In the past, Australia used acidification in wines to compensate for the decrease in natural acidity due to prolonged exposure to sunlight. However, the rising temperature and heat are making it harder for Australian vineyards to produce the required natural acidity in their wines, hence the need to find grapes that can withstand the heat and have lower alcohol content.
Italian grape varieties are a suitable choice as they are naturally high in acidity and can thrive in hot conditions. Australia's wine industry has a history of experimentation, and with increasing research into terroirs and winemaking techniques, there is a growing interest in planting Italian varieties.
Though Australia will never produce identical wines to Italy, winemakers aim to create their interpretation, which retains the grape's unique features while bringing a new style to Australian wine. However, caution is required to prevent producing too many commercial-style wines like Pinot Grigio, which was widely planted and lost its premium quality.
Weekly Wine Tasting Events at Gertrude Cellars in Fitzroy:
Join us every Friday for our complimentary wine tasting events (follow us on social media for dates/timings to taste a range of old world (imported varieties) vs new world (Australian wine) and discover the differences, advantages and disadvantages of both. We'd love to hear from you what your top picks are!